Thursday, February 17, 2011

02-12-2011 Agua Blanca Creek

Lake Piru

We had a cool opportunity to drive up Piru Creek this weekend. Some Condor Trail people were going to Agua Blanca Creek to do some trail work. Frank, and I decided to tag along, and help out. The nice thing about going with these folks was they had key to all the gates on Piru Canyon Rd. So we got to drive (instead of walking or biking) the four miles to the Agua Blanca trailhead. It seems like there's a gate blocking the way everywhere I want to go these days.

North of the lake

The drive up Piru Canyon was gorgeous. I'm not sure what the status of the Juan Fernandez Boat Launch is. It's obviously closed to anyone without a key to the gates. But it still looks brand new, and the Coke machine there is still getting power some how. A bit past the abandon Blue Point Campground we passed by a bunch of Search and Rescue guys doing some sort of training in the creek.

We parked at the Whitaker Ranch. We geared up with Fiskars loppers and McLeods. Right next to the Whitaker Ranch is the Kester Camp. Kester Camp is not a campsite, it's a cozy little ranch house, and property. Once you pass Kester Camp you walk through a little turnstile, and you're on the proper Agua Blanca Trail.

This sign has survived many fires.

The trail was pretty nice. Several times we heard, then saw the S&R helicopter fly over us. We had to cross the creek many times, but those of us who tried were able to keep our feet dry. However, once we got to the Devil's Gateway dry feet were no longer an option.

Getting through the Devil's Gateway

For as dramatic as The Devil's Gateway sounds it's just a short narrow section of the creek. Compared to The Big Narrows, Devil's Gateway isn't that impressive. DG's walls go up maybe 150ft to 200ft at most, and the narrow section is about 25 yards long. The Big Narrows walls go up like 500ft at least, and its narrow section goes on, and on for maybe a mile or more. A little bit past the Gateway the trail split.

You can go this way...

...Or you can go that way.

To the south the Potholes Trail, and the Agua Blanca trail continued westward. Frank, and I split from the rest of the group to go see Log Cabin Camp. It was maybe five minutes from where the trail split. I was happily surprised at how big the campsite was. There were four separate sites spread out over a large tree shaded area . There were still three BBQ grill's standing. And the dysfunctional remains of four icecan stoves were littered about.

We didn't stay at the camp very long. We wanted to catch up the other guy's who were heading up the Potholes trail to start working. The Potholes trail climbs up a long hill, and follows along side a spring fed creek. We caught up with the others who had stopped on the trail for lunch. While we were eating, and trading stories we heard a voice in the trees. Perplexed we went silent, and and tried to pinpoint the direction the voice was coming from. Then we saw the unmistakable orange shirt of a S&R team member, then another shirt, and another. There were probably 15-20 orange shirts coming down a game trail about 100ft from us. I guess the helicopter was ferrying the S&R guys out to the Potholes, and then they were hiking back.

After we finished our lunches it was time to get to work. Clipping, sawing, and raking we made our way up the trail. At the top of the there was a old cabin. It belonged to the same family that owns the Kester Camp property.

Inside the cabin there was an old stove and metal bed frame. There was some old farming equipment scattered around outside. Behind the cabin was a swamp.

This bed frame looks a lot like the bed frames at Ant Camp

The Swamp

If we had continued up the trail a little further we would have come to the Devil's Potrero. But we stopped at the cabin. We kept working on the trail for another hour or so. Fallen trees were sawed, and removed, water drainage channels were dug into the trail, and lot of plant clipping was done. Then it was time to pack up our tools, and head back.

The walk back was pleasant enough. When we got back to the Kester Camp we saw that some people had driven up, and were enjoying themselves at their ranch house. As we passed by a very friendly lady came out, and thanked us for working on the trail. She kindly offered to make us some coffee, but we declined. We talked to her for a little bit. She told us about some the history of her family's property. According to the stories she had heard, a great, great grand-father had won the property in a poker game long, long ago. She seemed like a really nice person. From there it was just a short walk back to the 4x4's. And then we drove back out. Despite getting down, and dirty out there I came out with zero poison oak, though Frank did get some on his forearms. I'd like to thank Alan Coles for organizing, and leading the trip. I also thank the other guy's that came out on the trip, and worked hard so that others can have a more pleasant time in the backcountry.


  1. Good to see the work done on the Potholes trail. I commend the spirit of volunteerism that leads to such projects in the Los Padres. This trail was a favorite of mine in years past, and I hope to get back that way before long. I posted a comment (Condor Trail Facebook page) asking about the fate of the old shack along the Pothole trail; now I see that it is still standing and intact. Last time I was there (1983) it had recently been cleaned up by someone as an Eagle Scout project (according to a note tacked on a wall). I have old pictures of the shack and the trail; I do not remember the 18W04 and 19W10 signs here. Great blog post; thanks from the cold Northeast.

  2. I will second the good doctor's comments; thanks to you and Frank and Alan's crew for the work, EP.

    I've got two Agua Blanca-area trips planned in the coming months; haven't been up there in ages and am looking forward to seeing it post-fire.